Sunday, July 24, 2011

This is great! ...where are we going?


My first computer was a TI-99/4A. I think my dad bought it because he was interested in the electronics -- the hardware. I never did gain much interest in that aspect. I loved the software. Here was a device that could do....anything. Its chief limits are your imagination, your skill, your patience, your ability to focus, your problem solving and logic and its speed. It can't fly you to the moon but it can simulate it. (It can fly you to the moon, too, but you'll have to invest in some extra hardware.)

In a way, it must be daunting to get into computer programming now. The TI-99/4A came with BASIC and an instructional book. These days you'll need to go out and buy your own book, and possibly buy an expensive development environment to go with it, and while the languages are far more powerful, they are far more complex. I wonder if the ratio of programmers-to-non has changed much in the last 20 years. Are there more, because the technology is so pervasive, or are there less, because the bar is so high now?

In the 7th grade, I could sit down and write a text adventure game that was just as good as the text adventure games sold in stores. These days nobody would want such a game, and the games they do want are much harder for one person to make. You can easily spend more time on the creation of the graphical elements than on the programming to drive them. I suppose the lesson is that these days, you can't be a solitary geek in your basement. You at least need several geeks, preferably one that's a pro at computer artwork and one that's a pro at sound effects and music, in addition to the whizbang coder.

And then, of course, we are in a global network now. Whatever application you can think of, someone has already written it. In fact, there will be a hundred of them. I can practically feel my motivation for creation draining away in the face of the complexity of the task, the art and sound which takes a lifetime of talent in fields I've not pursued, and the the thought that at the end, I just have one more needle in the pile of needles.

I wonder where the youth of today will find their motivation.

But every great inventor needs to start somewhere. At some point you just have to do things for yourself. The needle may get lost in the stack of needles, but it's your needle. You invented it. You understand how it was made and from that you learn how to make your next needle. Which will also get lost in another stack.

Modern networking may help us collaborate and make even greater things, but a collaboration of unskilled idiots isn't going to produce anything. You at least need a collaboration of competent novices, and the road to competent novice, perhaps in a bit of irony, requires you to be able to shut out the network and learn things for your self. How else will you develop enough competence to collaborate with?